LEE BEACHILL

In a professional playing career spanning over thirteen years, the 31-year-old who in October 2004 became the first English born player to be crowned World No.1 won Gold Medals at consecutive Commonwealth Games in Manchester and Melbourne respectively, helped England to win successive Men's World Team Championships in 2005 and 2007, and extended his World Tour haul to nine titles, from eighteen final appearances.
 
“I didn't think I was doing anything extraordinary or think I was better or different from anyone else,” Lee Beachill said, when asked to review a career which scaled the heights before ending in February, a couple of years earlier than he wanted.
 
“It was just what I chose to do,” he emphasised, “and I went about it in a way I thought was right. Thankfully that turned out to be the case.”
 
It's not all that often that sportsmen who have been World No.1 talk like this. Even less often can they do it without sounding falsely modest. Still rarer are those who talk this way after being told that they would never make it, as Beachill once was.
 
It is this sense of relatedness, as well as his beautifully constructed squash, which is part of what makes Lee Beachill unique. He surrounds his comments with strategic “you knows,” and “erms,” probably more eloquent than they seem, suggesting that the English-born World No.1 is concerned to avoid sounding too egotistical.
 
So it seemed worth asking: had he always felt he had what it took to become number one, or was he surprised when it happened? There was a lengthy “Errrrmm,” and a lengthier pause. “I - I did surprise myself that I did it,” he concluded.
 
“Errm, it's one of those things that sort of happens and......” He paused again, deflecting that train of thought, and preferring: “you know the excitement is quite short-lived, because within a couple of weeks there is another event and then the expectation is suddenly through the roof.
 
“You're suddenly expected not to lose to anyone, and all that is part of, you know, part of being there. That is a fantastic thing to have had to deal with. But dealing with it can also be quite stressful.
 
“But it's a fantastic experience to be......to be even given the opportunity to deal with it. Because there's an awful lot of very, very good players who never do. So, you know, it is something I'm very proud of.”
 
He had suffered even greater stress when Beachill announced his retirement at the British National Championships in Manchester, where he reached the finals a record-breaking six out of seven times.
 
First there was the disappointment of giving in to a knee injury that he had fought so hard to offset; then the let-down of finding it was all over. This was mixed with sudden euphoria after receiving the kind of prolonged ovation no other player has ever received there.
 
It was, he reckoned, “the most stressful week I have ever had. And the body just said enough is enough.” He was bed-ridden for a week with illness and depression.
 
At least Beachill had a near-perfect antidote – a new job as Chief Operating Officer for the Professional Squash Association (PSA), enabling him to stay within the tournament ambience and to remain among those with whom he had shared his life. He had never been one just to play his match and disappear.
 
Living so close to his memories should be very therapeutic. Beachill was actually the only Englishman ever to have become World No.1. True, his good friend Peter Nicol played for England while number one, but he remains Scottish, while Jonah Barrington represented Ireland and competed before official rankings began.
 
When Nicol made his monumental decision to change allegiance from the Scottish Squash Rackets Association to England's World Class Performance Programme, it was also a big thing for Beachill.
 
“It was a big turning point in my career,” he said. “I was literally like a sponge at Peter's side because I was practising with him, we were rooming together, and anything I could get from him I did. He gave me a hell of a lot of confidence, and obviously, er, that helped when I was playing him.”
 
It was his victory over Nicol in the 2002 National Final, while Nicol was World No.1, which Beachill regards as particularly significant.
 
“Erm, again I played Peter in the British Open quarter-finals, and that was probably one of those matches that gave me the belief that I can, you know, that I could actually get up there,” he continued.
 
“Then there was the flip side, playing Thierry (Lincou) in the (2004) World Open final, having the match ball, and it not quite going right for me,” Beachill added, with a hint of self-deprecation.
 
He didn't boast either about having beaten every leading player. He did though point out that he succeeded in an era with more styles and potential contenders than ever before, with a greater chance on any give day that at least one would be unbeatable.
 
Beachill's own style was almost a throwback. Based on traditional virtues of line and length, it possessed great accuracy and was supplemented by a considerable ability to hold the ball long enough to mask intentions and shackle opponents. It required the patience to create the foundations of a solid rally before building the superstructure of attack, either at the front or the back, or with angles and variations, which gave him greater control of the outcome. It made his game particularly satisfying to watch for aficionados, like witnessing properly designed architecture.
 
Much of this was characteristic of the teaching of Malcolm Willstrop, England's most prolifically successful coach. “Malcolm instilled into me from a very young age, you know, loyalty and routine, hard work, and these are all the things that, one, make you a good squash player, but, two, in my opinion, make you a better person,” Beachill said, without the pauses now.
 
“You can use a lot of the things Malcolm teaches you in any area of life, and I'm still using them now. I always will.”
 
Beachill's game also met with approval from Barrington, whose own style was the embodiment of patience and discipline, and who was a profound influence on Beachill too.
 
Might modern players, despite their more open, more physical, speedier and more risk-taking styles, still learn from this now?
 
“There are still things in there, and I think....er, that's not very good,” Beachill replied, pausing again. “Because when hitting down the wall, I wasn’t happy until it were sticking this far off and it were going in the corner,” he replied, gesturing a tiny distance with his fingers.
 
“But then they do things. You know, watching Ramy (Ashour) and James (Willstrop), there's stuff on there, I think, bloody hell that's ridiculous, because it wouldn't be what I would do, and it wouldn't even be in my mind to play that shot at that time. But that's the way the guys are doing it now.”
 
The game has changed fast. So what else would Beachill like to see change during his time at the PSA?
 
“It's getting people's mentality to change who probably still think, you know, the old white court, and the whites - there's still a lot of that about,” he replied, speaking more assertively now.
 
“I mean that's changing. There are new people picking rackets up. It's the healthiest game you can play and all this needs to be marketed and put out there properly.
 
“We are in a position to do that now, and I think we have the right people involved. Everybody wants what's best for squash - not lining their own pockets or making a quick buck, or doing it short term and moving on.
 
“The people involved, certainly in the PSA and probably the women as well, want what's best for the game. That's a big thing, and that's a big difference I think.”
 
“Lee is one of the most professional and successful players that internationalSPORTgroup™ has represented, but above everything else he has been a close and loyal friend.
 
His injury has undoubtedly robbed him of many future titles, which makes it even more poignant that he announced his retirement at the British National Championships in Manchester which was where it all started for him. He was the first person to successfully defend the title and it was the way he did it, beating Peter Nicol in the final, which will live forever in my memory as I am sure it will for the hundreds of spectators who witnessed a truly magnificent performance that day. Many doubted that he would ever scale the heights that his talent so richly deserved, but Lee proved many people wrong and it has been a privilege to share the highs and lows of a memorable career and a valued friendship which will continue regardless of which direction his career now takes him.”
Paul Walters, internationalSPORTgroup™ Chief Executive Office
 
“I have known Lee for about five years having first met him at the Saudi International in 2005 and since then I have had the pleasure of knowing him as a professional athlete and a colleague on the PSA Board. As a promoter I can say that Lee has been one of the most professional players on the Men’s World Tour and was always willing to do whatever was asked of him for the benefit of the event and the sport as a whole. His dedication to squash and knowledge of the sport have made him one of the most committed, most hard working members on the PSA Board. He will be missed by all his fans, but knowing how dedicated he is to squash, I’m sure that he will take his contributions from inside the court to new areas within the sport. I, and the entire PSA Board, wish to thank him for the all that he has contributed to squash as one of its greatest players and look forward to working with him as our Chief Operating Officer."
Ziad Al-Turki, Professional Squash Association Chairman
 
"Lee is the consummate professional. I’ve had the privilege to watch him in an England shirt in European and World Championships, where he always gave his all. As team captain, his understated yet passionate leadership style was crucial whenever the team was under pressure. He has real quality which we’ll miss - and he’s an example to aspiring young players everywhere."
Nick Rider, England Squash Chief Executive
 
“Having been associated with Lee from the age of eight, it is a sad day when he is forced to retire from the PSA World Tour. He has achieved so much, especially in Manchester, so it is appropriate that his career should end at the British National Championships. But for the injury there were no signs that he was not as good as ever, so that is the regret. He has already given the game so much, and I am sure that whatever role that he finds in the sport he has even more to give. Aspiring young players could do a lot worse than to emulate Lee, both for the way he played the game and the manner in which he conducted himself.”
Malcolm Willstrop, life long coach

By Richard Eaton
 
Former World No.1 and three time British National Squash Champion Lee Beachill has announced his retirement from the men’s professional World Tour at the National Squash Championships ’09 in Manchester having been unable to return to full fitness following surgeries in July and October of last years to repair cartilage damage to his left knee.